Scientists Set Doomsday Clock Back a Minute

A ceremony of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists at the Academy acknowledged a slightly reduced risk of nuclear annihilation.

Published January 14, 2010

In a ceremony at the New York Academy of Sciences this morning, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists moved the minute hand of its famous "Doomsday Clock" back one minute, from 5 minutes before midnight to 6 minutes before midnight, reflecting the group's estimation of a slightly reduced threat to the Earth from nuclear proliferation, climate change, and biotechnology. For the first time ever, the event was open to the general public via a live Web feed.

Academy member Lawrence Krauss and NYAS President's Council member Leon Lederman are co-chairs of the Board of Sponsors of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists. They announced their intention to re-energize a national discussion on the reduction of nuclear weapons stockpiles, and a commitment to fight proliferation and encourage disarmament efforts. "With a new administration in Washington, it will be an unprecedented opportunity to re-examine our policy on missile defense, nuclear weapons, nuclear proliferation, and nuclear energy," said Krauss, who is director of a new Origins Initiative at Arizona State University. "There are a number of different areas where U.S. policy has been stagnant or gone backward, and there is a tremendous need for a sensible strategy," says Krauss. "We will use the talent and reputation of the Board of Sponsors to be leading voices; to reinvigorate and raise the profile on these nuclear-related issues, so vital to our long-term peace and safety."

The last time the Doomsday Clock minute hand moved was in January 2007, when the Clock's minute hand was pushed forward by two minutes, from seven to five minutes before midnight. Factors influencing the latest Doomsday Clock change include international negotiations on nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation, expansion of civilian nuclear power, the possibilities of nuclear terrorism, and climate change.

Speakers at the event included:

  • Lawrence Krauss (Co-chair, BAS Board of Sponsors; Foundation Professor, School of Earth and Space Exploration and Physics Departments, Associate Director, Beyond Center, Co-director, Cosmology Initiative, and Director, New Origins Initiative, Arizona State University)
  • Stephen Schneider (Member, BAS Science and Security Board; Professor of Environmental Biology and Global Change, Stanford University; Co-director, Center for Environment Science and Policy of the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies; Senior Fellow, Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment)
  • Jayantha Dhanapala (Member, BAS Board of Sponsors; President, Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs; Chair, 1995 UN Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty Conference
  • Pervez Hoodbhoy (Member, BAS Board of Sponsors; Professor of High Energy Physics and Head, Physics Department, Quaid-e-Azam University, Islamabad, Pakistan)
  • Kennette Benedict (Executive director, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists)

Founded in 1945 by University of Chicago scientists who had helped develop the first atomic weapons in the Manhattan Project, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists subsequently created the Doomsday Clock in 1947 as way to convey both the imagery of apocalypse (midnight) and the contemporary idiom of nuclear explosion (countdown to zero). The decision to move the minute hand of the Doomsday Clock is made by the Bulletin's Board of Directors in consultation with its Board of Sponsors, which includes 19 Nobel Laureates. The Clock has become a universally recognized indicator of the world's vulnerability to catastrophe from nuclear weapons, climate change, and emerging technologies in the life sciences.